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Meet the Arts Faculty & Staff

Meet the Arts Faculty & Staff

Kyle ThomasKyle Thomas
Assistant Director of Performing Arts 

B.F.A. Nebraska Wesleyan University, M.Ed., Grand Canyon University

As assistant director, Kyle oversees the arts marketing and enrollment. Kyle has a specific passion for Arts Management, having previously worked for companies such as the Minneapolis School of Business and the Lincoln Journal Star. Before moving to Nebraska, Kyle also worked as a professional director, music director, and choreographer in Minneapolis for organizations such as Tyrol Hills Music, Young Artists Initiative, Artistry MN, and Freshwater Theatre. A Kansas City native, Kyle has also worked with MTKC, Starlight Theatre, and Chestnut Fine Arts.

Contact Kyle by calling 402.941.6217 or by emailing thomask@midlandu.edu.


Kathy HaysKathy Hays
Director of Arts Student Achievement

B.S. Creighton University, M.S., Creighton University

Kathy’s job is to ensure the success and satisfaction of all arts students. Kathy is a lifelong educator whose 35-year career involved working with students from kindergarten through high school. She was a classroom teacher, gifted facilitator, and even a show choir director. Kathy lives in Elkhorn with her husband, Dan. They have two children – Caitie, the director of theater at Fremont High School; and Patrick, a Midland alum with a Bachelor’s degree in music education who teaches vocal music at Aspen Creek Middle School in Gretna, Nebraska. Kathy feels very fortunate to work every day with the talented and hard-working arts students at Midland.

Contact Kathy by calling 402.941.6424 or by emailing haysk@midlandu.edu.


Rex BarkerRex Barker
Director of Instrumental Music

B.F.A. Kearney State College, M.M.E., University of Nebraska, Omaha

Rex Barker has been at Midland University since the fall of 2015 as the Director of Instrumental Music. He was also Director of Performing Arts 2016-2018. He is also the Music Director of the Omaha Symphonic Winds, an adult- community band. He received the Donald A. Lentz Outstanding Bandmaster Award from the Nebraska State Bandmasters Association, which recognizes an individual who has made an outstanding contribution throughout his career. Rex was a teacher, director, and head of the music department in a 27-year career at Millard South High School in Omaha. He also served as head of instrumental music for all Millard Public Schools. In 2014, Rex was also named the “Outstanding Music Educator in Nebraska” and in 2001, School Band and Orchestra magazine selected him as one of its “50 Directors Who Make a Difference.” Rex is the current President-Elect of Nebraskans for the Arts, and a Past-President of the Nebraska Music Education Association, Nebraska State Bandmasters Association, and Nebraska’s Iota Theta Chapter of Phi Beta Mu.

Contact Rex by calling 402.941.6337 or by emailing barker@midlandu.edu.


Dan HaysDan P. Hays
Director of Theatre

B.F.A., B.A. Kearney State College, M.A., University of Nebraska, Omaha

Dan P. Hays began at Midland University in January of 2014. Before coming to Midland, Dan was an Associate Professor of Theatre and Coordinator of Musical Theatre at Nebraska Wesleyan University. Before that, he was a longtime High School Choral Director at Elkhorn High School in Elkhorn, Nebraska, and Blair High School in Blair, Nebraska. Dan has been a member of Actor’s Equity (the professional actor’s union) since 1988. He is an Associate Director for The Young Americans, which is a California-based semi-professional performance group. Dan has been a professional actor, director, musical director, and choreographer. He has been awarded the Gary Thomas Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, the Show Choir Camps of America Outstanding Teacher of the Year, the Outstanding Young Music Educator Award from the Nebraska Music Educators Association, the Outstanding Young Music Educator Award from the Nebraska Choral Directors Association, the Sertoma Club’s Man of the Year award, and the Golden Apple Educator award.

Contact Dan by calling 402.941.6390 or by emailing hays@midlandu.edu.


Lee MeyerLee Meyer
Adjunct Professor of Theatre

B.A. Kearney State College, M.M., University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Lee was a music and theatre teacher in the Nebraska public schools for over 30 years. She taught in the Fremont Public Schools for ten years. Lee has worked at Midland for 8 years teaching voice, music, and theatre classes, and directing shows.

Lee has been a member and officer of Nebraska Music Educators, Nebraska Choral Directors Association, Nebraska Thespians, and Nebraska Speech Communication Theatre Association. She is currently the Executive Director of the Fremont Opera House and continues to direct shows there.

Lee Meyer was named Thespian Teacher of the Year, NSCTA Teacher of the Year, Fremont Rotary Teacher of the Year, Nebraska School Activities Volunteer of the Year, Milford Citizen of the Year, and Fremont Tribune Pathfinder.

Contact Lee by emailing meyerl@midlandu.edu.


Joel JohnstonJoel Johnston
Director of Vocal Music

M.M. University of Nebraska at Lincoln, B.M.E., University of Nebraska at Lincoln

Joel Johnston is Director of Vocal Music at Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska, where he conducts the University Choir, the Clef Dwellers, and teaches courses in Music Education and Vocal Pedagogy.  Known for his positive and dynamic leadership, Joel is in demand as a vocal clinician, conductor, choreographer, and adjudicator.  He has conducted more than 40 choral festivals throughout the Midwest and is a frequent judge at show choir competitions.

Since 2005, Joel’s second “home base” has been the SNJ Studio of Music in Omaha, where he teachers voice and conducts two award-winning ensembles – the SNJ Singers, a select 50-voice High School A Cappella Choir, and Center Stage, a 56-member Middle School Show Choir.  

Joel has served as Chorus Master for the Omaha Symphony Christmas Celebration at the Holland Center in Omaha and was musical director for the popular Nebraska Shakespeare production of Twelfth Night in June of 2013.   He served as President of the Nebraska Choral Directors Association, as well as Chair of Choral Affairs for the Nebraska Music Educators Association.  He was named NMEA’s Outstanding Music Educator of the Year in 2003. 

Contact Joel by emailing johnston@midlandu.edu.


Adam KnowltonDr. Adam Knowlton
Director of Forensics

B.A. University of Nebraska, Lincoln, M.A., University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Ph.D., University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Adam Knowlton has been the Director of the Midland University Speech & Debate program since the spring of 2017. Originally from Omaha, Adam was an out-round competitor in Communication Analysis, Informative Speaking, Prose Interpretation, Dramatic Interpretation, and Duo Interpretation on the national level. Following his undergraduate career, Adam earned an M.A. in Communication Studies from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Culture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Over his 13-year coaching career, Adam has coached 5 National Champions, 6 All-Americans, 21 state champions, and over 61 out-round events.

Contact Adam by calling 402.941.6381 or by emailing knowlton@midlandu.edu.


Jerry DitterJerry Ditter
Director of Technical Theater

Jerry R. Ditter was previously the Technical Director for Theatreworks, a professional theatre company in Colorado Springs, CO. Prior to joining the professional world, Jerry was an Associate Faculty member at Morningside College in Sioux City, IA, and an instructor, director, and stage manager at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, CO. He also has taught at community colleges, and has experience in the professional management of theatres in Grand Junction and elsewhere. Ditter has a Master’s of Arts in Dramatic Arts – Direction from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and his undergraduate degrees are from Central Missouri State University. Jerry was formerly the Artistic Director of Stages of Omaha at The Millennium Theatre.

Contact Jerry by emailing ditter@midlandu.edu.


John HussJohn Huss
Director of Jazz Band and Orchestra

John has been part of the Midland family since 2000. He teaches jazz band, gives guitar, trumpet, trombone, and jazz improv lessons. John has over 30 years of teaching experience and has been nominated for the most influential teacher.

John has studied with classical guitarists John Oates and Ron Pinkman. He also studied with Bill Levette, and Joe Pass. John studied theory and composition with John Monkman. John studied trombone with John Johnson and trumpet with Dr. Maurice Byrd.

As a professional musician John has played with Lenny Breau, Emily Remler, Gladys Knight, Blood Sweat and Tears, 5th Dimension, Joe Pass, Tom Luer Jason Goessl, Sundae and Mr. Goessl, and many more.

Contact John by emailing huss@midlandu.edu.


Ashley Counterman, Midland University Director of DanceAshley Counterman
Director of Dance, Head Dance Coach

Contact Ashley by emailing counterman@midlandu.edu.


Katy JonesKaty Jones
Assistant Professor of Art and Design

B.A. Doane University, MFA Fort Hays State University 

Katy Jones is a sculptor born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska.  After earning her Bachelor of Arts with a professional emphasis in Art, from Doane University, she moved to Hays, Kansas to earn her Master of Fine Arts in sculpture, metal casting, blacksmithing, and fabrication, from Fort Hays State University.  Katy has exhibited at the state and national level and after a brief hiatus from the art world that brought her back to her home state, she is currently at Midland University as an assistant professor of art and design.  

As part of her continuing development as an artist and educator, Katy continues to create her personal artwork alongside students in the ceramics lab. These sculptural forms are created around the psychology of illusions, perception, experience, truths, and deception, bringing attention to how they affect our sense of self-constructed identities.  Her work also investigates the effect our complicit acceptance of others’ illusions have within interpersonal and group relationships.  Katy utilizes anthropomorphic, figurative forms to give life to these narratives.  Ultimately these forms, inspired by personal experience, observations, and the experiences of others, confront this sense of constructed illusion and deception that we are faced with every day.  They simultaneously express the basic animalistic impulses all humans share, which must be navigated with each individual’s personal, subjective sense of truth.  

Contact Katy by emailing jonesk@midlandu.edu.


Dr. Julie GrivesDr. Julie Grives
Adjunct Faculty

Dr. Julie Kaldor Grives Has taught voice and directed the Freshtones at Midland since 2019. She has taught voice, voice class, lyric diction, theory, vocal pedagogy, western music, and directed choirs, opera, and musical theatre productions around the country for over 20 years. Many of her current and former students perform professionally across the United States.

Dr. Grives is active as a performer on the opera and musical theatre stage, as well as in concert and recital. Recent roles include Mother in Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors and as soprano soloist for Handel’s Messiah.

Dr. Grives completed her PhD in vocal pedagogy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2019 where she researched the effectiveness of training equipment in the voice studio and encouraging positive neuroplasticity in singers. Dr. Grives presented her research regionally, nationally, and internationally, including at the International Congress of Voice Teachers in Stockholm, Sweden. Dr. Grives incorporates her research in her teaching to provide students with expanded technical and musical skills that ultimately allow them to perform authentically and expressively.

Contact Julie by emailing grives@midlandu.edu.


Joe SmrdelJoe Smrdel
Graduate Assistant of Vocal Music

Contact Joe by emailing smrdel@MidlandU.edu.


Chris LopezChris Lopez
Graduate Assistant of Technical Arts

Christopher (Chris) Lopez graduated from Midland University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts Management. He is originally from Nashville, Nebraska, and is currently working on his Master’s Degree in Learning and Talent Development.

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